Broadband penetration: How fast can Danbatta deliver?

 Adebayo Shittu (Communication Minister)
Adebayo Shittu (Communication Minister)

THE Nigerian Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector has witnessed phenomenal growth in the last decade, becoming the leading mobile telephony market in Africa, measured by subscriber base and revenue.

Nigeria, having crossed the 100 per cent teledensity mark, currently boasts of over 150 million mobile phone subscriptions in an industry estimated to worth over $32 billion.

This growth has been due largely to regulatory and policy reforms in the country, and the emergence of an independent regulator, which ushered in an era of stability.

The resultant increase in investor confidence led to an abundant inflow of foreign direct investment which provided the financial lubricant required to sustain growth in mobile telephony infrastructure and services deployment in Nigeria.

However, this growth so far witnessed in the telecoms sector has been largely restricted to the voice telephony segment and has had very limited impact on the broadband sector.

While countries like South Africa, Kenya and Ghana, have gone far in having access to fast internet, Nigeria’s broadband access remains very low. The country’s broadband penetration was 10 per cent as at the end of 2015, despite the about 25 terabytes bandwidth capacities lying at the country’s sea shores.

Indeed, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, has identified this challenge, just like his predecessors in the office.

Danbatta admitted that data transmission speed was yet to meet the required standard, but assured Nigerians to expect a revolution.

The NCC EVC gave the assurance at the weekend, during an interactive session with media executives and Journalists from the North West, North Central and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Kano last weekend.

He said: “We have put in place measures to improve internet connectivity in the country through pervasive broadband availability.”

He told the large gathering of Journalists that the commission’s 8-point agenda is primarily geared towards making this possible.

Danbatta disclosed that before his appointment in August, 2015, the NCC had already licenced two (2) infrastructure companies (Infracos) for Lagos and North Central.

“We will during the course of 2016 licence InfraCos for North East, North West, South East, South South and South West”. Incentives are being packaged by Government for these potential operators to assist them to launch services and make broadband internet very readily available especially in the major cities”.

“We look forward to when Internet connectivity will be free and I know we will get there”.

Danbatta who addressed the media in both English and Hausa languages said data transmission through broadband is the next revolution in the ICT sector and “we have repackaged policies to fuel this growth and our 8-point agenda takes very care of this, Internet will not only be available, it will be accessible and affordable”.

According to him, ICT is certain to remove Nigeria from the outskirts of globalization to the competitive one, stressing, “Our plans are to make broadband Internet ubiquitous.”

Danbatta elucidates on the commission’s eight-point agenda, which covers 2015 to 2020 planned to bring about social benefits and inclusiveness for national development through broadband penetration.

He said the agenda would facilitate broadband penetration, improve quality of service, optimize usage and benefits of spectrum, and promote ICT innovation and investment opportunities in the country.

Just as in Lagos during the international conference recently, Danbatta insisted that the new set vision will foster wealth creation, application of human knowledge and creativity is steadily out-spacing wealth creation through extraction and processing of natural resources, adding that ICT has immense socio-economic role to play in national development.

Although the agenda and vision looked quite interesting, Danbatta has a lot of work to do in driving the people and the processes that will lead to the successful implementation of the agenda and vision for the telecoms industry.

The extra efforts became necessary, owing to the slow growth of broadband penetration in the country since 2011. The nation’s National Broadband Plan
(NBP 2013-2018) stipulates a 30 per cent broadband penetration by 2018, up from six per cent in 2011.

However, Nigeria was able to attain only 10 per cent broadband penetration by December 2015, a situation that industry stakeholders have frowned at, saying that broadband penetration had been too slow in the past years.

But since Danbatta’s vision and agenda will focus around deepening broadband penetration, which of course will be the major driver for innovation and development in the 21st century, in addressing the global paradigm shift from voice to data communication, the vision and agenda, might be coming at the right time.

Hence the NCC expressed its commitment to ensure that infrastructure necessary to provide this ubiquitous broadband services is available and accessible to all Nigerians at affordable rates not just in line with the President Muhammadu Buhari’s change mantra but also with United Nation/’International Telecommunication Union’s Connect Vision 2020.

He stressed that broadband is the next frontier in the ICT industry that would help speedy transformation of the Nigerian economy. “We would promote innovation, investment, competition and consumer empowerment in and on top of communications platforms of today and the future-maximizing the power of information and communications technology to grow our economy, create jobs and enhance national competitiveness through the deployment of broadband infrastructure to facilitate roll-out broadband services that will hold out opportunities and higher network quality of service for all Nigerians,” he said.

According to him, “The broadband penetration agenda would be achieved through the national broadband plan, while the role of the NCC in the plan is to prioritise the broadband infrastructure within the cities and subsequently in the rural areas.
NCC’s plans
Presenting the commission’s five year strategic vision for the telecoms industry, Danbatta said: “The process for the development of this five-year strategic vision has taken a lot of effort and time, and I am confident that this final output is a good roadmap to guide our operations in the commission for the next five years. We are presenting our new vision, alongside the overarching change mantra of President Muhammadu Buhari, to promote innovation, investment, competition, and consumer empowerment in and on top of the communications platforms of today and the future – maximizing the power of information and communications technology to grow our economy, create jobs and enhance national competitiveness through the deployment of broadband infrastructure to facilitate rollout of broadband services that will hold out opportunities and higher network quality of service for all Nigerians.”

According to him, as a regulator of the telecommunications sector, “we recognize the importance of providing an enabling environment for ICT development, enhancing and modernizing our institutional capacity, facilitating sector infrastructure, efficient and qualitative service provision and promoting sector market development. However, all these can only be achieved if there is a renewed and increased coordination for the common good of nation building. As an organization we are committed to refocus our energy and resources towards this common good and we also call upon other stakeholders to join hands with us in this patriotic duty.”

He explained that the vision is all about, “an information society, empowered by the interconnected world, where telecommunication/ICTs enable and accelerate social, economic and environmentally sustainable growth and development for everyone,” branded as ‘Connect 2020′, which is a framework based around three complementary goals and related targets to be achieved by 2020. “

The goals include: Growth, Inclusiveness and Sustainability. Growth, he said, would enable and foster access to and increased use of telecommunications/ICTs; Inclusiveness would bridge the digital divide and provide broadband for all; while Sustainability would manage challenges resulting from telecommunication/ICT development innovation and partnership, that will lead, improve and adapt to the changing telecommunication/ICT environment.

According to Danbatta, ‘Connect 2020′ is a global framework for action in the ICT sector set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to foster sustainable change in the ICT sector by year 2020. It is hinged on three key goals that are part of the proposed 2016-2019 ITU Strategic Plan which sets high-level impact representing the change in the ICT sector that we all want to see in the world.
Strategies for achieving the 8-point agenda

Danbatta, however, explained that the strategic vision 2015-2020 is premised on eight pillars, referred to as the Eight-Point Agenda, and guided by the change mantra of President Buhari. He listed them to include: to facilitate broadband penetration; improve quality of service; optimise usage and benefits of spectrum; promote ICT innovation and investment opportunities; facilitate strategic collaboration and partnership; protect and empower consumers; promote fair competition and inclusive growth; and ensure regulatory excellence and operational efficiency.

In achieving each of the eight-point agenda, Danbatta said the vision for the first agenda, which is about facilitating broadband penetration, is to provide and optimise access to and use of affordable fixed and mobile broadband everywhere in Nigeria.

He explained that the strategy would be to facilitate and support availability of broadband services by promoting deployment of universally available, fast and reliable network infrastructure that will stimulate seamless broadband penetration to drive technology innovations and overall productivity of the economy.

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